The US Presidential Elections: Clinton acquires aura of a winner

FOR A MOMENT, three decades dropped away. As searchlights made patterns in the icy night sky, and 10,000 people put aside two hours of waiting to exult, there was another young Democratic contender for the presidency talking of his vision of change, of how a nation divided could reunite to 'break the barriers of our common future'.

As yet, Bill Clinton is no John Kennedy. But briefly last night in Ann Arbor, on the same campus where candidate JFK launched the Peace Corps 32 years ago, he came close. Two hours earlier the last presidential debate had ended. Mr Clinton's performance had been adequate but no more. Now though it hardly matters. Unmistakably, almost tangibly, he has acquired the aura of a winner. If so, Ross Perot is the man to thank.

Just who won the Monday night contest is a matter of dispute. CNN gave it to Mr Perot, the other networks to Mr Clinton. What nobody disputes is that, despite his most forceful and coherent performance yet, George Bush failed to secure the breakthrough he desperately needed. And each time he seemed to be closing in on the Arkansas Governor, the starch-tongued Texan billionaire was there to thwart him.

Time and again, Mr Bush sought to portray his opponent as a man so committed to equivocation that he was unfit to govern. But on every occasion there was Mr Perot to deflect the fire back to the President. If the true goal of a quixotic campaign has been to sink an incumbent Mr Perot so plainly dislikes, Monday's confrontation at East Lansing was living proof of it.

Take Bill Clinton's draft record. Why was Mr Bush so fixated on events 23 years ago, when a country yearned for answers to its contemporary woes, Mr Perot asked. Most potently of all, before a record 90 million viewers, he publicly ripped open the festering wound of 'Iraqgate' more savagely than ever before.

Jim Lehrer, the moderator, could not hold them apart. Come clean, Mr Perot demanded, publish the instructions given to the ambassador, April Glaspie, before her fateful encounter with President Saddam Hussein a week before the invasion of Kuwait. There was no doubt, he insisted, that she had been faithfully carrying out instructions, permitting President Saddam a grab for the oilfields of northern Kuwait. 'Only he took the whole thing, and then we went mad. Let's get the facts out.'

'Absurd,' the President snarled, 'Iraqgate is just a bunch of people who were wrong on the war, trying to do a little revisionism.' Afterwards the spin-doctors drove home the same point. 'It is nonsense, no more, no less,' said Brent Scowcroft, the National Security adviser. Mary Matalin, the fieriest Bush spokesman of them all, was adamant. The President's performance had been 'stellar'.

Alas, not so. Mr Bush had fought effectively, and for once his heart genuinely seemed in the fight. But rarely did he dominate, and the best line belonged to Mr Clinton. Assailed again for seeking to have all things both ways, his retort was blistering: 'Americans are sick and tired of having either-or policies, of constantly being polarised - and look at George Bush. Once he was against voodoo economics; now he's its greatest practitioner.'

By now, though, such things hardly matter. A draw in the debate was all the Arkansas Governor required, and he got it. Yesterday it was back to business as usual - a triumphal progress through the Midwest. At noon he addressed a rally in Chicago, a last gesture to the state of Illinois where no Democrat has won since 1964, but where his lead now is around 20 per cent. Then it was on to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Mr Clinton is firmly in command. But it was that chilling campus at Ann Arbor which truly caught the mood.

In fact, avoiding complacency is the order of the hour, as Mr Clinton's communications director and close friend, George Stephanopoulos, is acutely aware. 'This race is going to tighten,' he warns. 'There's no way we'll win it by 15 per cent.' Maybe not, but to hear those hardy 10,000 on Monday night, there was no way of telling.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
footballMan City manager would have loved to have signed Argentine
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site on Friday


Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
Enner Valencia
footballStriker has enjoyed a rapid rise to fame via winning the title with ‘The Blue Ballet’ in Ecuador
Arts and Entertainment
A top literary agent has compared online giant Amazon to Isis
arts + entsAndrew Wylie has pulled no punches in criticism of Amazon
Arts and Entertainment
Charlie Sheen said he would

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities